COLOR OUT OF SPACE (2019)

Review by LL Soares

First off, I want to say, “Welcome back, director Richard Stanley!” Not that he really went anywhere, but he hasn’t made a full-length feature film since 1992’s DUST DEVIL! Sure, there was that ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU movie in 1996, starring Marlon Brando, that Stanley just started directing when the studio replaced him with John Frankenheimer, but that doesn’t count (check out the whole story of this disaster of a movie in the documentary LOST SOUL: THE DOOMED JOURNEY OF RICHARD STANLEY’S ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU, 2014). It must have been a painful experience, because Stanley has only directed short films (including the “Mother of Toads” segment in 2011’s anthology film, THE THEATRE BIZARRE), videos for cool bands like Fields of Nephilim and Marillion, and documentaries including THE OTHERWORLD (2013) and THE WHITE DARKNESS (2002). But he hadn’t directed another feature until now.

I first became aware of Stanley in the 1990s with a little film called HARDWARE (1990), a cool sci-fi horror movie where a guy finds a weird helmet that turns out to be the head of a killer robot that suddenly gets reactivated… it’s a simple but effective plot and I remember liking it a lot. After that, he made the praised DUST DEVIL (1992), and looked to be an up-and-coming new director before he got sidetracked by the DR. MOREAU bullshit.

Second, this one’s for the Lovecraft fans. COLOR OUT OF SPACE is Stanley’s adaptation of the story by H.P. Lovecraft. Did you know there have been more than 200 (mostly short) films made based on Lovecraft? Many of you know about Guillermo Del Toro’s passion project – to adapt Lovecraft’s novella AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS – which still hasn’t come to fruition. And of course there are Stuart Gordon’s classic Lovecraft films, RE-ANIMATOR (1985) and the underrated FROM BEYOND (1986). COLOR OUT OF SPACE, based on Lovecraft’s story “Colour Out of Space,” (with the British spelling of “Colour”), has been filmed at least four times previously, including a short film from 2017 by Patrick Muller, a German production from 2010 directed by Huan Vu, and an Italian production from 2008, directed by Ivan Zuccon. The most famous previous version, however, was a film called DIE, MONSTER, DIE! (1965, also known as MONSTER OF TERROR), directed by Daniel Haller and starring the great Boris Karloff, along with Nick Adams.

A lot of people were excited to hear that, not only was Richard Stanley coming back, but he was making a Lovecraft film. To put a cherry on top of the sundae, it was announced that the star would be…Nicolas Cage.

Wow.

And so we come to the third important cog of this particular machine. Hey, I know Cage is a polarizing figure. He was a big star at one point, making blockbuster action movies like  THE ROCK (1996), CON AIR (1997) and FACE/OFF (1997), and of course, NATIONAL TREASURE (2004). He even made some great movies around that time, including ADAPTATION. (2002) and the underrated MATCHSTICK MEN (2003). Then his career seemed to implode, but not due to lack of work. He was in tons of movies, it just seemed like a lot of them were make-em-quick-for-the-money duds. But I never lost my faith in him. For every bad movie, he’d make three interesting ones. Before his action hero ascension, he made lots of good movies, including BIRDY (1984), RAISING ARIZONA (1987), David Lynch’s WILD AT HEART (1980), and LEAVING LAS VEGAS (1995), the movie he won an Oscar for. And not all of the films he’s made since his career went all bizarre are awful, some of them are downright terrific like BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS (2009), DRIVE ANGRY (2011), MOM AND DAD (2017) and 2018’s MANDY, which was so good, people started taking him a bit seriously again.

Sure, Cage has a reputation for playing bigger-than-life wackos, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a joy to watch, and when he gets a good script, he can turn in a memorable performance. I’m convinced he always could.

So what happens when you take these three elements – Richard Stanley, Lovecraft, and Nic Cage – and put them all together?

COLOR OUT OF SPACE!

The Gardner family has moved out to a farm in the middle of nowhere, intent on a new start after a traumatic event. Theresa Gardner (Joely Richardson of the series NIP/TUCK, 2003-2010, and VAMPIRE ACADEMY, 2014) is healing up after a battle with cancer. Her husband, Nathan (Nicolas Cage) is intent on farming, and raises alpacas. They fight a lot over the Wi-Fi, which is constantly going out in this isolated area, and Theresa needs the internet to communicate with her clients, who she advises financially. Teenage daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur, also in BIG EYES, 2014) performs Wiccan rituals in the woods to help her mother. Teenage son Benny (Brendan Meyer, THE GUEST, 2014, and THE OA, 2016-2019) hangs out a lot with an old hippie hermit named Ezra (Tommy Chong, also in UP IN SMOKE, 1978, and THAT ‘70s SHOW, 1999-2006) who lives nearby in a shack. Youngest son Jack (Julian Hilliard, also in the TV series THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, 2018) spends most of his time with the family dog.

A young hydrologist named Ward Phillips (Elliot Knight, also on the series AMERICAN GOTHIC, 2016, and ONCE UPON A TIME, in 2015) comes upon Lavinia during one of her rituals, and explains that he is there to inspect the water table, since the state is planning to build a dam nearby.

One night, a meteorite crashes to earth in the middle of their yard. It emits a strange color (a psychedelic pink hue) and begins to transform everything it comes into contact with. The meteor mutates the land and creatures around it. Strange flowers spring up around the family’s well, and the alpacas, as well as the Gardner family members themselves, begin to experience weird changes.

The changes begin slowly, first changing the groundwater, which Ward suggests they don’t drink, to eventually turning animals and people into misshapen mutants. There are some nice body horror moments in the movie, including two people who are fused into one, agonized mass. And everyone in the Gardner family begins to slide toward insanity.

Things just get weirder and weirder as we approach the denouement.

Stanley does a good job with the story (aside from directing, he co-wrote the screenplay with Scarlett Amaris). Especially impressive is the look and feel of the strange glowing “color” that the meteor emits. Since it’s impossible to show us an alien color that we’ve never seen before, the use of eerie, overwhelming pink light in the mutation scenes works quite well. The creepy soundtrack by Colin Stetson is also very effective, as is the work of cinematographer Steve Annis, who gives us a strong visual sense of what’s going on.

Richard Stanley and the themes of Lovecraft work very well together. Nicolas Cage alternates between giving an effective performance, and going over the top at times. It actually doesn’t affect the mood at all, since everything is going in the direction of complete madness anyway.

However, while I liked this movie, I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed. COLOR OUT OF SPACE ends up being less than the sum of its parts. It wasn’t the masterpiece I was hoping for. There are times when the movie feels off, or things don’t go in a particular direction as strongly as they could have. It’s like a wild animal that tries to break out of its cage – and makes a valient effort — but utlimately, doesn’t.

But it’s good enough so that, if you’re a fan of Richard Stanley, Lovecraft, or Nicolas Cage, or any combination thereof, then I suggest you check this one out. It’s not the best Lovecraft adaptation you’ll ever see, but it’s far from the worst, too. And it’s supposed to be the first film in a Lovecraft trilogy that Stanley is working on. Let’s hope it’s all uphill from here.

 

© Copyright 2020 by LL Soares

 

MANDY (2018)

Review by LL Soares

MANDY (2018) has just come to theaters after a very positive run in film festivals. It’s also available for rental on streaming services such as Amazon and Youtube, as well as iTunes, where you can buy it. What you think of the movie may be affected by what you think of lead actor Nicolas Cage. But this is the most-buzzed about movie he’s made in years, a grindhouse-worthy, gory revenge thriller by director Panos Cosmatos, who previously made the surreal masterpiece BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW (2010), with a screenplay by Cosmatos and Aaron Stewart-Ahn.

Lumberjack Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) works hard in what looks like the forests of the American northwest. He works hard, then comes home to his signifcant other, Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough), who is an artist. They live in a little house in the middle of a forest, and pretty much keep to themselves. Sometimes Red wonders if they should move somewhere else, but Mandy likes it there.

One day, a van drives past Mandy on a rural road. Inside are cult leader Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roche) and his “flock,” who have dubbed themselves The Children of the Dawn. The group includes Brother Swan (Ned Dennehy), who drives and is Jeremiah’s right hand man; Mother Marlene (Olwen Fouere) who appears to be the woman who has been with Jeremiah the longest; Sister Lucy (Line Pillet), a younger woman who does what she can to please Jeremiah; and a few other men who aren’t as memorable.

Jeremiah is convinced that Mandy is special and that he must have her, even though he only glimpsed her from the car window. He demands that his people get her for him, so Brother Swan leads the way.

A group of them go out in the middle of the forest and blow something called the Horn of Abraxas. In response, some demonic-looking bikers come riding out of the woods, on jet-black motorcycles. The bikers lead the others to Mandy’s house, where she is abducted and Red is beaten.

When Mandy wakes up, she is put through an initiation of sorts and brought before her new master. But she refuses to be dominated. Instead, she laughs at Jeremiah, who then has her killed. Red, who is tied up behind the house with barbed wire, is forced to watch. Then the group of freaks heads out into the night.

Red gets free, mutliating himself in the process. He then decides to exact his vengeance. He goes to the trailer of a guy named Caruthers (Bill Duke) and gets a crossbow he had left with the man. Caruthers also gives him other weapons. Red also does some blacksmithing and forges a special one-of-a-kind battle axe. His first mission is to hunt down those maniac bikers.

We’re not sure if the bikers are human or not. They look otherworldly, like extras from the HELLRAISER movies. But Caruthers says that they’re just killers who were given a bad batch of LSD that drove them insane with pain. Either way, Red proves they’re mortal, using his weapons. But it’s not easy, and he’s further injured in the fights.

He then hunts down Jeremiah and his band of merry murderers, covered in blood and a little crazy himself.

At one point, Red comes across a man called The Chemist, played by Richard Brake (who was the best thing in Rob Zombie’s 31, 2016, where he played Doom-Head), who has a tiger and who goes into a trance to tell Red where Jeremiah has gone. I kind of wished the tiger had gone along with Red to assist him in his bloody tasks.

There are also some dream sequences, where Red dreams of Mandy, that are animated. This shouldn’t work, and could have looked very goofy, but somehow it does.

It seems that, online at least, the movie has been polarizing. Some people have complained that the pacing is slow, but I found the way the movie moved seemed just right, with enough gory punctuations to keep you engaged. Some people found Cage’s performance too over the top, but frankly, this is the kind of crazed performance people have come to expect from Nicolas Cage, and I think the movie works well with his particular brand of crazy. The rest of the cast is solid, including Ms. Riseborough as the titular Mandy, and especially Linus Roache as the evil Jeremiah. When we first see the cult leader, he reminded me totally of actor Richard Lynch, back when he appeared in movies like Larry Cohen’s GOD TOLD ME TO (1976); there’s the same strong sense of menace. Jeremiah has a vulnerable side too, but if he shows it to you, then he’ll have to kill you.

The movie leads up to the big final confrontation between the wronged husband and the vile sociopath who believes he is above the law. The results are predictable, but no less effective.

If you’re already of fan of Mr. Cage, then chances are that you’ll love this movie. The feel of the movie and the visuals, go very well with his intense performance. If you’re not a fan of his, then there may be a few scenes where you think he’s overdoing it, but even then, you may enjoy it, just because it’s so unusual and well-made. Mr. Cosmatos has a powerful style and a strong visual sense, that made this movie special for me.

I really loved this one, and I give it four knives.

(Also, keep an eye out for a scene where Red and Mandy watch a commercial on their television for a product called Cheddar Goblin. It’s a special laugh-out-loud moment, tucked inside all the intensity and gore.)

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares

LL Soares gives the movie MANDY ~ four knives.

Stab_2Stab_2Stab_2Stab_2

 

MOM AND DAD (2017)

Movie Review by LL Soares

It’s not always easy being a Nicolas Cage fan. The man has made a lot of movies, and while his early career showed so much promise, with memorable roles in such films as WILD AT HEART (1990), KISS OF DEATH (1995), LEAVING LAS VEGAS (1996), and the Coen Brothers’ RAISING ARIZONA (1987), his output since has been a mutli-colored quilt of varying quality. That said, I will watch this man in just about anything. Some of his worst films are actually some of his most entertaining, because, frankly, you don’t go to a Nic Cage movie to be dazzled by acting perfection. Whether at his most serious (and best) or most manic (and just plain bonkers) Cage just rivets your eyes to the screen, and keeps them there. There aren’t many actors like that. And don’t forget, since 2000 he’s still been in some good ones, including ADAPTATION (2002), BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS (2009), KICK-ASS (2010), and DRIVE ANGRY (2011).

Lately, for some reason, the quality of the movies he’s been starring in has gone up. Sure, there was a decade or more where they all seemed to be dogs of different types, and he was clearly in it just for the money (the rumor being he had humungous debts to pay off). But now, he’s getting better scripts. It might have to do with the fact that, while he seems willing to be in just about anything, more talented people are gravitating toward him.

I am really looking forward to two recent films of his to get buzz at film festivals, MANDY and LOOKING GLASS (both 2018), but until they’re available to the rest of us, I thought I’d check out Brian Taylor’s horror/comedy MOM AND DAD (2017).

Taylor, by the way, wrote and directed the wackadoodle CRANK (2006) and CRANK: HIGH VOLTAGE (2009), as well as writing and directing several episodes of the equally demented TV series HAPPY! (2017 – Present). So, right away, you know you’re in for a thrill-ride. This guy’s good.

In MOM AND DAD, Cage plays dad Brent Ryan, a dude going through a mid-life crisis. He’s married to stay-at-home wife, Kendall (Selma Blair), who spends her days going to yoga classes and gossiping with her friends. They have two kids, high schooler Carly (Anne Winters, also in the TV series 13 REASONS WHY, 2018, and ZAC AND MIA, 2017 -2018) and the younger Josh (Zackary Arthur).

The action starts early on, when a bunch of angry parents attack the school where their kids are learning. Turning on the news, you’ll see that there’s some kind of crazy behavior going viral, where parents have the uncontrollable urge to kill their children. We don’t fully know why this is happening, but it’s suspected that it’s some kind of chemical agent leaked into the air by evil-doers of some kind.

As the parents start to riot outside, rushing the gates intent on murder, the kids flee.

Carly flees with her BFF Riley (Olivia Crocicchia) until they eventually meet up with Riley’s mom, then Carly finds her boyfriend, Damon (Robert T. Cunningham). The two, figuring out what’s going on, decide to go back to Carly’s house and get Josh, before their parents come home. When they get there, they find out that the family’s maid has already done something awful to the daughter she often brought to work with her.

Of course, before the kids can get Josh out of the house, Mom and Dad come home early. Dad Brent already seems a little off before all this begins; he’s got major anger issues. In flashbacks, the kids (especially Josh) remember incidents where dear old dad would be smiling and friendly one minute, then a serious and angry the next. But there’s no hint of abuse. The abuse is reserved for inanimate objects, like a pool table that Brent gets for the cellar, puts together from a package, and then smashes to bits with a sledgehammer when Kendall starts berating him for spending the money. He’s also fixated on a vintage Thunderbird that he’s had since he was a kid. The car plays a more prominent role later.

Kendall is going through a rough patch herself, with a teenage daughter who mostly won’t talk to her, and an existence she finds unfulfilling, Mom is just as dissatisfied with her lot in life. So here we have two people who feel a bit lost, who suddenly have a shared, and focused sense of purpose. Even if that purpose is the slaughter of their children.

Carly, Josh and Damon (who Dad doesn’t approve of, it’s implied, because he’s black), try to stay alive as our titular psychotic parents try to do whatever it takes to kill their offspring, including running a hose into the cellar where they’re hiding and pumping gas down there (later of course, someone lights a match, and I thought the whole house would blow up, but just one spot does. I’m not sure how believable that is).

This is the kind of role Nic Cage could do in his sleep, and there’s enough very dark humor to make the characters a joy to watch. Selma Blair is very good, too, as Mom.

Later on, when Brent’s senior citizen parents show up (played by Lance Henriksen and Marilyn Dodds Frank), we find out that this virus has no age limit, and that old people running around trying to kill their grown son gives us more chances for gallows humor. You gotta love a movie where both Nicolas Cage and Lance Henriksen go on murderous rampages!

I enjoyed the hell out of this one. My only complaint is that is seemed too short. When the ending came it was unexpected (the movie’s over already!?!). But, while we’re on the ride, it’s a lot of fun in a violent, psychotic kind of way.

I give this one ~ three knives.

Stab_2Stab_2Stab_2

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares